Both 2017 and 2018 brought many infrastructure changes to the Arboretum including additions and upgrades. While all of these new hardscapes were much needed, and have been wholeheartedly welcomed by our visitors, planning and construction commitments diverted time away from what forms the basis of our existence – the plant collection. Another challenge to the collection was the unusual Winter weather pattern of 2017-2018, resulting in an adverse effect on our new plantings of 2017.
The Word Garden was especially devastated. Heavily planted with many new species and cultivars of
Primula as well as a new complement of Spring-blooming bulbs, these all settled in well and were healthy and robust going into Fall. However, we experienced a period of unseasonably warm weather in early December which melted the existing snow cover; many plants broke dormancy and began to grow, only to be hit by single digit temperatures during the end of the month. The majority of 31 new
Primula and most of the new bulbs did not survive the Winter, resulting in obvious gaps this Spring. Additionally, as 2018 progressed, I missed seeing many of the specimen plants which have long graced the Arboretum beds. With work on the new parking lot, new visitor access trail, and new entry plaza taking the focus of our attention, growing and adding to the collection has temporarily taken a back seat.
As a new year approaches, I plan to work on activities which may not be readily apparent to the casual visitor…namely, sourcing and replacing the missing plants. This will be a gradual process as many that were lost were grown from seed. Many of these are not easily found in the trade, and there can be quite a lag time from sowing seed to blooming a plant. Sometimes that process can take years. An excellent example is one currently in the process –
Paeonia rockii, a peony with large, pure white flowers named for one of the great plant explorers of the early 20
th century – Joseph Rock. The shiny, hard, black seeds take up to 2 years to germinate, and then spend the third year growing a single root. Another season brings the first shoot, and another 3 to 5 seasons bring the first bloom. A true lesson in patience!
This Winter, I’ll peruse seed exchanges, public botanic garden seed lists, and trade catalogs to source new material. During the cold and dark, it is a satisfying endeavor which reminds one that Spring will be here before we know it. When it is, come visit your Arboretum, and look for signs of change…among the collection.